Your PSAT score report will show you a myriad of scores, including your total score, section scores, subscores, percentiles, and Selection Index (SI). This guide will focus on the last two pieces of data: your PSAT score percentiles and Selection Index.
Because it's important to understand how the other scores in your report relate to your PSAT percentiles and Selection Index, we'll start with a quick review of terms. If you're one of many students or parents looking for directions out of the complex maze that is the PSAT score report, read on to have the path illuminated!
What Scores Will You See on Your PSAT Score Report?
If you took the PSAT, then you know your score report contains a lot of data. The various scores fall on different scales, and all of them are calculated from your raw score, or the total number of questions you got right. In other words, your raw score is made up of one point for every correct answer. Note that you don't get any deductions for wrong or skipped answers.
Let's take a moment to define the various scores you'll see on your PSAT score report to clear up any confusion and reveal where your percentiles and Selection Index come from.
- Total score— the sum of your two PSAT section scores, ranging between 320 and 1520.
- Section scores (2)— a score for Math and a score for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW), both between 160 and 760.
- Test scores (3)— separate scores for Math, Reading, and Writing & Language, all between 8 and 38.
- Cross-test scores (2)— scores to measure your performance on Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science questions taken from all three subject areas (Math, Reading, and Writing); these scores range from 8 to 38 (as test scores do)
- Subscores (7)— scores to measure your performance on PSAT questions in seven specific skill areas: Command of Evidence, Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving & Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math; each subscore ranges from 1 to 15
- Nationally Representative Percentile— shows how your scores compare with scores of all US students in your grade, including those who typically don't take the PSAT
- User Percentile— shows how your score compares with scores of US students in your grade who typically take the PSAT
- Selection Index— a scoring system used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to determine eligibility for Commended Scholar, Semifinalist, and Finalist
As you can see, there are a lot of scores on your PSAT score report. Your section and total scores, along with the percentiles they fall in, are by far the most important for understanding your performance on the test.
Your cross-test scores and subscores are useful as feedback on your strengths and weaknesses as a test taker. You can use this feedback to help you prep for the PSAT again (if you're a younger student) or to get ready for the SAT if you're already a junior.
Now that we've defined these scores, let's consider the metric that compares your performance with that of other test takers: your PSAT percentiles.
Read on so you, too, can magically juggle percentiles in the palms of your hands.
What to Know About PSAT Percentiles
PSAT percentiles are useful because they compare your exam performance with that of other test takers in your grade. If you scored in the 90th percentile, for example, you scored the same as or higher than 90% of test takers (the remaining 10% scored higher than you).
As explained above, the Nationally Representative Percentile takes into account all students, even those who don't typically take the PSAT. This percentile includes students who didn't take the test, but who, on the whole, presumably would have scored lower if they had.
The Nationally Representative percentile appears to be based on the population of all US students in a certain grade rather than on the population of PSAT test takers in a certain grade. For this post, we'll focus on User Percentiles, which are calculated based on the performance of students who actually took the PSAT.
If these two percentiles seem confusing, it's because they are. In fact, some critics have questioned the accuracy of both percentiles, suggesting that they're inflated and "presenting a rosier picture" of student PSAT scores to sway students toward the SAT and away from the ACT.
While it's unclear whether or not these criticisms are warranted, it does appear that the data has the potential to fluctuate in the future.
For now, these are the percentile charts that the College Board released in 2020. They show how your total and section PSAT scores get represented by percentiles.
Critics of the PSAT might be right to be suspicious. As many people know, 73.6% of statistics are made up on the spot.
PSAT Total Scores to Percentiles
This chart, based on the College Board's 2020 PSAT scores report, shows the User Percentiles for total PSAT scores. You can also check out our other guides if you want to learn more about PSAT percentiles for sophomores or freshmen.
Whether you want to check these percentiles against your own score report or are looking up your results on a PSAT practice test, you can find your percentiles by locating your total PSAT test score. Again, this will range between 320 and 1520 and is the sum of your two section scores (Math and EBRW).
If you scored 650 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 700 in Math, for example, your total PSAT score would be 650 + 700 = 1350. Based on the chart, you can see that a total score of 1350 falls in the 94th percentile. Scroll down to find yours or, conversely, to see what you would need to score to make it into your target percentile.
|Total Score||Percentile||Total Score||Percentile|
|1080||64||570 and below||1-|
Learning any new skill takes hours of dedicated practice. Doing well on the PSAT is no different!
PSAT Section Scores to Percentiles
While the chart above shows PSAT percentiles represented by total scores, this next one shows the percentiles assigned to section scores.
As described above, you'll get two section scores on the PSAT: one for Math and one for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. Each score is between 160 and 760. Just like in the chart above, you can use the following chart to find your percentiles or to find out what scores you need to achieve your target percentile on a particular PSAT section.
In addition to helping you prep and interpret your PSAT scores, whether on practice tests or the real thing, percentiles can be helpful for estimating your chances of getting National Merit distinction. We'll talk more about why this matters in a moment.
|Section Score||EBRW Percentile||Math Percentile|
|250 and below||1-||1-|
If you're aiming for National Merit, you need to know your Selection Index score.
How Do PSAT Percentiles Relate to National Merit?
Students who score highly on the PSAT their junior year might qualify for National Merit distinction. The top 3-4% of scorers every year are named Commended Scholars, while the top 1% are named Semifinalists and can potentially go on to become Finalists and scholarship recipients.
Your percentiles on your PSAT score report are an estimate rather than an exact prediction of your chances of National Merit. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation actually uses its own scale called a Selection Index (SI) to determine National Merit.
The NMSC compares students nationally for Commended Scholar but determines eligibility on a state-by-state basis for Semifinalist. It uses this state-by-state system to ensure there is an even distribution of Semifinalist awards throughout the country.
This discussion of National Merit brings us to an important piece of data: your Selection Index.
What Is the Selection Index?
Your score report will give you your Selection Index (SI) score; you can also calculate this yourself, as you'll see below. Your Selection Index will look much different from your total PSAT score since it ranges between 48 and 228.
To be named National Merit Semifinalist, you'll need a Selection Index score at or above a certain cutoff. Each state's cutoff is different (usually students testing in New Jersey; Washington, DC; and abroad have the highest ones) and changes from year to year.
Based on reports from students around the country, we've compiled the full list of 2020 cutoffs for each state. If you took the PSAT as a junior, you can check out our National Merit Semifinalist guide to get a sense of whether or not you might qualify. Remember that cutoffs can change from year to year.
So where does this Selection Index score between 48 and 228 come from? Read on to find out.
Calculating your Selection Index score is easy. All you need is a calculator, a spoon, a Yukon Gold potato, and a dozen European coins.
How to Calculate Your Selection Index Score
Your Selection Index score is calculated from your PSAT test scores. As you saw in the glossary at the beginning of this guide, you get three test scores: one for Math, one for Reading, and one for Writing and Language. Each test score ranges from 8 to 38.
If you take the PSAT/NMSQT, your score report will show you your Selection Index. You can also easily calculate this score yourself by adding your three test scores together and multiplying the sum by 2.
The chart below shows how you would calculate your Selection Index score if you earned a 35 in Reading, a 32 in Writing and Language, and a 37 in Math:
|Section||Score||Sum x 2||Selection Index Score|
(35 + 32 + 37) x 2 =
|Writing and Language||32|
If you scored in top percentiles and think you might be eligible for National Merit, you can check out our state-by-state cutoffs for the 2020 PSAT.
In closing, let's review what you need to know about the PSAT scoring system, particularly the percentiles and Selection Index.
Key Points: Scores on the PSAT
The PSAT is scored on a scale from 320 to 1520. Its scale is shifted down from the SAT's scale, which is 400-1600, to account for the fact that the PSAT is a somewhat easier test.
Your Reading and Writing and Language performances are reported together as a single Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score between 160 and 760. Your other section score is Math and also ranges between 160 and 760.
Your score report will tell you two percentiles: the Nationally Representative and User percentiles. It is generally thought that the User Percentile is the more accurate and useful of the two, as it's based primarily on students who typically take the PSAT.
The charts above show the percentiles represented by your total and section scores on the PSAT. If you're taking and scoring your own PSAT practice tests, you can use the charts to determine what scores you need to achieve to make it into your target percentile.
If you score in a top percentile on the PSAT, then you might be named National Merit Commended Scholar or National Merit Semifinalist. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation typically notifies qualifying students in September.
While your PSAT score report might look confusing with all its measures and metrics, the various scores on it can actually be extremely useful as feedback for your PSAT and SAT prep. If you take the time to comprehend your PSAT score report or calculate these scores on your own from practice tests, you'll gain valuable insight into your profile as a test taker.
You can use this feedback to shape your prep, whether you're taking the PSAT again or preparing for the very similar SAT. Whatever the case, it's a good first step to take stock of your academic strengths and weaknesses and design a personalized study plan that will work for you!
Now that you've gained some insight into PSAT scores, check out our guide to learn about the SAT scoring system. In it, we break down how the SAT is scored and give you scoring charts so you can score your own practice tests.
What should you do after you get your PSAT score report? This in-depth guide discusses some next steps everyone should take after getting their PSAT scores.
Are you aiming for top scores on the PSAT? Learn all about the test here, and then download PSAT practice tests to help you study. If you're aiming for National Merit, check out this guide on how to get a perfect score on the PSAT.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.